Saturday, February 9, 2013

Texas considers review of discredited evidence

In Texas lawmakers are backing a renewed push to streamline the appeals process for those who were convicted based on science that has since been discredited.

Senate Bill 344 would establish a statute expressly allowing Texas courts to overturn convictions in cases where the forensic science that originally led to the verdict has changed. There a companion bill filed in the Texas House.

Though the proposal has failed twice before, several recent Court of Criminal Appeals decisions may make it more likely to pass, and that prosecutors who have opposed it in the past should come around.

Currently, people convicted of a crime in Texas can submit a writ of habeas corpus to the Court of Criminal Appeals, in which they ask for a new trial based on evidence that was not available when they were originally convicted. If the science used to convict them has changed, there is no special guideline allowing the court to grant them a new trial, and the judges often disagree about whether to do so.

The advent of more reliable scientific evidence like DNA has exposed or helped discredit long accepted forms of evidence.  Some of the newly discredited evidence includes arson analysis, bite marks, handwriting, toolmarks, hair & fiber even fingerprint analysis.

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